HOUSTON — Action has been taken against a Houston landmark and people have been told to stay away for their own safety, KPRC Local 2 Investigates reported Thursday.
Only maintenance workers and security guards are allowed to enter the Astrodome after what was once considered the eighth wonder of the world was hit with a laundry list of code violations.
The City of Houston’s Fire Marshal’s Office leveled several citations against the 43-year-old structure.
Local 2 Investigates obtained copies of those citations, which show the Astrodome’s fire suppression system is shot.
Joe Leggio with the fire marshal’s office told Local 2 Investigates that the system does not have enough pressure to work the sprinkler system or provide enough water to allow firefighters to hook up their hoses.
Other citations include an inoperable fire alarm system, faulty emergency lights and several electrical problems, including a non-working generator.
The problems for the Astrodome began in January when the city of Houston determined the building needed a full certificate of occupancy. These certificates are required before a building can legally be inhabited or used for business.
Leggio said major repairs and renovations would have to be made to the Astrodome before a certificate would be issued. Until now, the Astrodome has operated with only a partial certificate of occupancy.
Harris County owns the Astrodome but the building is managed by SMG, which also manages all the buildings in Reliant Park. Officials with SMG told Local 2 Investigates repairs were already being made when the new fire code citations were issued on Wednesday.
Leggio said the city determined the Astrodome needed a full certificate because smaller events and functions, such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Hide Out, were still being hosted inside the building. There are also 36 employees who office inside the Astrodome. These employees work for Aramark and SMG’s Human Resources Offices, SCS Security and Reliant Park’s parking operation.
Leggio said he has told SMG and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation that events and functions can no longer be held in the Astrodome until the problems are fixed. Leggio said employees can enter the building on a voluntary basis, but he doesn’t advise it.
The executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, Willie Loston, said the decision had already been made to voluntarily move all employees out of the Astrodome and into temporary offices.
Loston argued that repairing and renovating the entire Astrodome is unnecessary. Loston said only a portion of the Astrodome is used and will never again be used as it was in the days when the Houston Oilers and Astros called the Astrodome home.
Loston cited the example of the inoperable fire alarm system. Loston said the system is only installed in the area of the Astrodome that was once the offices for Astros owner Drayton McLane and offices for Astrodome USA. Loston said the rest of the Astrodome has never had a fire alarm system.
Loston said SMG and he have had a series of meetings with the city of Houston, trying to determine if the Astrodome is “grandfathered.” Loston said since the Astrodome was built in 1965, it may not be subject to all current city of Houston building and fire codes. Loston said if this is the case, then the number of required repairs and renovations can be trimmed down.
Loston said if the city of Houston determines the entire Astrodome must meet current code requirements, then it will cost $30 million to repair and bring up to code. Loston admitted he is frustrated that he has not gotten a final ruling from the city of Houston on this point.
He also said there is no record that the Astrodome has ever been required to meet the codes the city of Houston is now requiring it have before a full certificate of occupancy can be issued.
Loston said because of this unknown, he had to inform officials with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that the Astrodome may not be available next year for some of its functions.
Loston said he is keeping Harris County Commissioners abreast of these developments. Commissioners will have to approve any expenses for repairs and renovation.
Local 2 Investigates also received a statement from County Judge Ed Emmett.
“This does not come as a big surprise,” he said. “I have always been concerned about people being in that building.”